A unique study tour to the Great Bombay Circus camp at Peeragarhi was an eye-opener for nearly 60 Delhi school students

It was a study tour with a difference. In an initiative organised by Janasamskrithi Rohini Area, about 60 students from schools across the Capital spent a day getting to know the artists of the Great Bombay Circus running in the city. Here are some of them record their impressions:

It was a remarkable moment in my life. I had never seen a circus before. The artistes performed dangerous activities courageously. I appreciate them for their simplicity and power.

Greeshma Arun

We knew that the Indian circus originated from the city of Thalasserry, Kerala, and it is now a dying art. Once only Malayali performers took part, but now there are artists from Nepal, Russia and countries of Africa.

Interacting with the artists, we got to know their feelings and experiences while entertaining the whole world with their daring and risky acts.

Krithika Manoj

It was the first time I visited a circus. It was thrilling to watch. I felt that the circus is a good form of entertainment.

Lakshmi Raju

Although I had seen a circus at a very young age, this visit was a rare opportunity as it afforded us firsthand knowledge of life in a circus tent.

We were introduced to the manager, trainer and artistes of the circus, who explained how they train the animals and move the whole circus and its inmates from one place to another, all over the country. The circus normally takes about two months’ time to shift to another location and erect the tents again.

It was particularly interesting to converse with the three clowns, who shared with us their anxieties about the future of the circus as a performing art in India, because of the restrictions on the use of wild animals, its growing unpopularity among people, lack of recognition of their skills, and so on. They had lived their entire lives in the circus tents, and had no formal schooling. The circus was not only their bread and butter, but their very life. They cannot think of doing something else for their livelihood, when the circus ultimately fades away from our society.

There were many foreign artists, the majority from China and Tanzania. The owner Mr. Dilip said that they are expecting more artistes from Russia in a few days.

Dilip said his family was from Thalassery and his grandfather had started the Bombay Circus back in 1920. He started it in the erstwhile Bombay Province under the British, and Bombay was the biggest city in India then, so it was natural to name the circus after it.

The trainer explained about the training of the animals, including dogs of different breeds, parrots (African grey parrots, macaws, crowned parrots, etc.), elephants, horses and camels. It takes at least three months to teach a dog a single trick, while it would be a year before the parrots perform as the trainer desires.

The main tent of the circus is called “Thampu” in Malayalam. It is erected on four pillars with a vast circular ring at the centre, where the performances take place.

The close interaction with the circus people before the show made their performance superb, because I understood the kind of effort, focus and sustained hard work they endure throughout their life. While we see the happy side of the circus, this trip helped us see the other side, which is darker and gloomy. We do hope the Government finds ways to sustain the art form of circus. Our society must also be made aware of the plight of these hard working performers and encourage them so that this great entertainment does not come to a sad end.

Parvathi Nair

The Bombay Circus is a simple and beautiful art that keeps melancholy away.

The circus is an exquisite trademark of hard work, teamwork and passion, showing that each performer stands on the stage of his/her own will and is not persuaded by anyone.

The trainers seem very friendly with the animals and provide them with a homely feeling with statutory food and supplements. From other sources like movies we had seen instances of ill treating animals, but this experience cleared up such misunderstandings.

Interviews with the performers, the owner and trainers helped us understand their activities and experiences.

Everyone in the world works for himself, his satisfaction and happiness, but the circus employees work for the viewers, to make them happy.

Movies, once performed, can be duplicated and the copies seen and re-seen, but a circus offers a live experience again and again. The government should ensure retirement plans for circus workers because they are totally devoted to the wellbeing of a healthy society.

Sravya M.G.

It was thrilling to enter a circus camp much before a show. We saw the animals who seemed affectionate with the humans. The clowns and artists were roaming around without their makeup.

Babu Nair, the ring master who trains the animals, and Shiv Prakash who trains the artists in the ring, joined us for the interaction. Babu uncle told us they give the animals their favourite food at the time of training, and they have never been bitten during practice. We got a wonderful chance to meet India’s most senior clown, Shri Tulsidas Chaudri, aged 67 years. Contrary to his image in the ring, he looked very serious while narrating his own story.

Dilip uncle told us how his grandfather, Kannan Nair, and Babu Rao Sadam started the circus. Their first show was in Hyderabad, now in Pakistan. When the British military introduced the circus to India, there were only horse riding acts. Northern Kerala artists introduced new items to the circus from Kalaripayattu.

When I returned home my parents told me that when they were young, lions and tigers also performed in the circus, and circus artists were considered like film stars back then.

The Wildlife Protection Act and other provisions of the law are important, but those involved in circuses also face a lot of problems. All the stakeholders — the government, members of society, circus owners and employees — should sit together to work out a solution so that this lively performance art is not completely lost to future generations.